The monastic shift

Over the years, I’ve followed with interest, and occasionally dabbled in, the popular shift towards new monasticism.

In this movement, I’ve found much to commend and imitate and some things that are best left alone. Some of the practices related to new monasticism have become increasingly mainstream, for example, Lectio Divina or the Examen. While Centring Prayer has intrigued and concerned me in equal measure.

I am challenged by those who have adopted a rule and by those who have embraced movements like 24/7 Prayer. But at the same time, the disconnect between some new monastic ideas and biblical Christianity is worrying.

Mike Cosper, the narrator of the deeply significant ‘Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’ recently commented that monastic practices provide a “provocative contrast to the hype, entertainment and expressions of power that drive much of evangelical life.” Along with the growing interest in spirituality, this critique of church life is surely a major cause of Christianity’s rekindled interest in monasticism.

Now, I’m not sure I want to join the new monastics but I do want to help reform the church to value every day along with Sundays. And I seek communal life, work, worship, learning, creativity, hospitality and service that encompass the whole week. And I want to learn to embrace Christlike patterns of prayer, retreat, rest and reflection equally matched by a passion for mission, discipleship and action (social or otherwise).

This thinking has combined with another concern: under used church buildings. Surely, predominately empty church buildings risk becoming a sinful indulgence.

So, like many churches, we have worked hard to populate our buildings with groups and activities that share some of our goals. This has culminated in plans to open a cafe at the centre of our building and communal life.

Initially, we spoke in terms of being a community centre. And to an extent we fulfil that function. But more recently, it has become clear that, without accepting the language or label, our vision sounds a lot like a monastery.

This conception of our building and grounds, acknowledges their central role in mission and Kingdom growth. That’s not to imply an attempt to shove our faith down people’s throats. But it indicates that the wider context for using our building is the rolling of heaven and earth into one.

So, two weeks ago we began daily morning prayer. This is the first step towards establishing rhythms and patterns of Christian faith that weave through the life of our community and facilities.

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